Local Youth Arts NonProfit Adapts Gracefully to Pandemic

by Shevaun Brannigan

The above picture shows Niesha Kennedy-Robinson and her daughter Najelah Robinson. The West Park Cultural Center, a nonprofit arts organization, focused on programming for Philadelphia children and youth located in the West Park neighborhood, was hit especially hard by the 2020 pandemic–and with equal force, the nonprofit quickly pivoted to adjust to the unprecedented circumstances.

When the pandemic hit, West Park Cultural barely hit “pause” on its programs, instead quickly moving them virtually, including its perhaps best known program, danceLogic. danceLogic is a unique class that combines dance and computer coding, culminating in an originally choreographed performance. The students, girls aged 13-18, learn the value of teamwork, dedication, and focus, as well as industry standard coding language.

While the class typically costs just $100 overall, West Park Cultural offered a donation option during the health crisis. The teens’ devotion to their studies didn’t miss a beat, and for families who needed to borrow iPads for the coursework, the coding instructor made them readily available. When the weather warmed and the virus rates briefly flattened, the dance sessions met outside at the Horticulture
Center for socially distanced and masked dance routines with coding in the computer lab. In the last few weeks both have gone virtual, as temperatures dropped and infection rates rose.

Now that the class is approaching holiday break, we’re giving a solo to one of its most passionate students: Najelah Robinson, who is 16 years old and has been participating in West Park Cultural programs for three years. Her favorite program is danceLogic, “because you’re gaining knowledge and still having fun.”

Her mom, Niesha Kennedy-Robinson, loves Najelah’s involvement with
danceLogic too, citing the accelerated math courses Najelah is taking. Najelah will tell you herself that “danceLogic has impacted my school life because it helped me learn different techniques I could use in math. It helps me to look at problems differently.” Not only has improved her ability to solve problems, Najelah credits danceLogic with her improved confidence.

Najelah is grateful to the instructors of danceLogic: Shanel Edwards and Tyra JonesBlain for dance instruction, as well as Franlyn Athias, the coding instructor. But best of all is the intersection between the two. Per Najelah, “Coding and dancing share the same goal. They both use steps to get to the main thing…with coding, we use different steps to get our program working…with dance, we use choreography steps to get our whole dance.”

Najelah encourages other girls her age to try the unique program, saying, “[danceLogic] will help us be more successful in life…plus, there are not a lot of girls in coding and we can change that.” The tech industry is largely male-dominated, but danceLogic is taking that on one step at a time, whether in a computer programming sequence, or a sophisticated hip-hop routine.

For more information on danceLogic, and all of West Park Cultural Center’s artistic programs for youth, please visit westparkcultural.org. Donations are also graciously accepted to help expand access to programming to underserved children and teens. To make a gift, please visit the website, or call (215) 473-7810.

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